Getting beyond the Details: Helping Students Develop a Knowledge Framework

Credit: iStock.com/matdesign24
Credit: iStock.com/matdesign24

You’re teaching an intro class; it’s three weeks into the semester, and you’ve just returned a high-stakes assessment to the students. The next time you look at your inbox, there’s an abundance of email from students wanting to make appointments because “they worked really hard and don’t know why they didn’t do well.” You’ve been teaching long enough that you know this pattern well.

You also know that when you probe those students about their difficulties, you’ll find their class notes are large, undifferentiated masses of text with few, if any, structural markers, like indentations or bullets. If you ask to see their textbooks, the likelihood is that nearly everything is highlighted. When you ask whether they recognize that the headings and subheadings indicate primary and subordinate relationships among the material, they look back in surprise. Many students who visit you have difficulty formulating clear questions or explaining what they’re struggling with. Some can articulate perfect definitions, reproduce diagrams, or provide detailed timelines, but they cannot explain their significance. And when faced with specific problems to solve, students report they are at a loss for where to even begin. There is frustration and doubt and confusion in their voices.

How do you help these students be more successful?


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